Mutton Dressed as Lamb

Posted by Masakim on November 20, 2001

In Reply to: Mutton Dressed as Lamb posted by R. Berg on November 20, 2001

: : There is a long running debate at my workplace as to the exact reference of the above phrase. Effectively, there are two camps. The first believes that it is a reference to age - i.e. that it is something much older dressed up as something much younger. The second believes that it relates to quality - i.e. that it is something much poorer dressed up as something much better.

: : I imagine that whichever of these is correct must hark back to the origin of the phrase. Mutton is taken from an older sheep than a lamb. However, it is also a poorer quality of meat than lamb.

: : Which was meant originally?

: : Thanks

: : Tim

: You can all get back to work now. It's age, not quality.

: "'mutton dressed (or dressed up) as lamb' has, since latish C19, been directed at middle-aged and elderly women dressing in an unbecomingly youthful fashion. Drawn from the terminology of the butcher's shop" [Eric Partridge, Dictionary of Catch Phrases: American and British, from the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day].

: When words that express the other meaning are needed, these might do:
: "Things are seldom what they seem,
: Skim milk masquerades as cream" [W. S. Gilbert, "H.M.S. Pinafore," Act II].

mutton dressed as lamb or (ob[solescent]) lamb-fashion. An old woman dressed like a young one: low [slang]: mostly Cockney : from ca. 1860. Cf. the older form _an old ewe dressed lamb-fashion_, q.v. at _old ewe_.
old ewe dressed lamb-fashion, an. An old woman dressing like a young one: coll[oquial]: 1777, _The Gentleman's Magazine_, 'Here antique maids of sixty three | Drest out lamb-fashion you might see'; Grose, 1785, as above. [obsolete] by 1900.
From _A Dictionary of Slang ..., Fifth Edition_ by Eric Partridge.

Mutton dressed as lamb. A middle-aged or elderly woman dressed up to look younger. The allusion may not simply be to a butcher's tempting display of meat, but to 'mutton' in its slang sense of 'prostitute' and to 'lamb' in its colloquial sense of 'young innnocent', 'virgin'.
From Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable revised by Adrian Room